Malacanang, July 26, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva (Star) President Arroyo expressed confidence yesterday that convicted Indonesian bomb maker Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi will be recaptured by police authorities any time now.

Without going into details, Mrs. Arroyo echoed her confidence that Al-Ghozi will be recaptured sooner than later.

"The Filipino people and our international allies are on the lookout and he (Al-Ghozi) will be caught in the dragnet one way or the other," she said.

"The threat of Al-Ghozi is real and we will hunt him down until he is accounted for."

The President made the remarks a day after Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople disclosed that top police officials have information on Al-Ghozi that would lead to his recapture within three days.

Ople had claimed contacts in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) gave the information to Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Hermogenes Ebdane Jr.

Ebdane then called up Ople to relay the information while expressing optimism that the Indonesian fugitive may be recaptured soon.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, made no mention of Ople’s disclosures.

For his part, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said three days to recapture Al-Ghozi "might be too optimistic."

"Our view is that this is an expression of hope," Bunye said.

"Sana magdilang anghel si Secretary Ople (I hope Secretary Ople has a tongue of an angel)," he said.

As far as Malacañang is concerned, Bunye said it would be better to be on the "conservative side" of predicting the outcome of the manhunt.

"We don’t want to give a specific time table. Perhaps, we can only announce this once there is really positive developments if Al-Ghozi is recaptured," Bunye said.

Bunye said the basis of their optimism is the anti-terror pact the Philippines had with neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. "So these are the basis of our optimism," he said.

Al-Ghozi’s escape caused the government much embarrassment, especially as it coincided with a visit by Australian Prime Minister John Howard who was in Manila to discuss, among other things, anti-terrorism cooperation.

Following the escape, Mrs. Arroyo immediately formed a special fact-finding commission head by former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez to "pursue the truth." There have been reports of alleged collusion by some police officers.

For his part, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Chief Deputy Director Reynaldo Velasco yesterday said the escape of the fugitives was "unfair to the PNP as an institution trying hard to regain the trust and confidence of the public."

"Whatever public harm has been done with the Al-Ghozi debacle could no longer be undone. But through this forum, and in behalf of the PNP as an institution, please accept my public apology for the deeds or misdeeds of a few officers and men," Velasco said.

Velasco assured the NCRPO is doing everything in its capability to recapture Al-Ghozi and ascertain the safety of all residents as well as vital installations and highly populated areas in the metropolis.

Al-Ghozi was arrested last year in Quiapo, Manila with a cache of explosives, which he said were meant to bomb the US Embassy in Singapore and other Western targets there.

He also confessed to rigging bombs that went off in several areas in Metro Manila on Dec. 30, 2000, which killed 22 people.

A court sentenced Al-Ghozi to 17 years for illegal possession of explosives, but he escaped before he was to be arraigned for the December 2000 bombings. Policemen and military agents involved in the manhunt claimed a "50-50" chance that Al-Ghozi may be recaptured.

Sources said the factors are still in favor of the government because of the huge reward.

With the volume of information pouring in daily, sources involved in the manhunt said the reality of capturing the elusive Indonesian fugitive may be at hand. — With Jaime Laude, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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